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Minerals are the basic building blocks of all rocks. There is a cornucopia of information buried in the mineral deposits of rocks! Mineralogists study the chemical makeup and interactions of these naturally occurring, inorganic minerals and make informed decisions about these elements in rock formations. They analyze, identify and classify minerals and precious stones according to their mode of origin, composition and structure, study the properties of minerals and develop industrial and environmental uses.

Since all of the solid parts of the universe are composed of minerals, it is truly a fundamental science of far-ranging importance to the environment, economy and geology-related industries. For example, understanding the mineral composition of rocks tells oil companies where to drill for oil, which enables scientists to put together broad based theories about the way the earth is changing and thereby helps environmental management companies decide how to dispose of a toxic or hazardous substance.

Mineralogists might focus their studies on two broad areas: high and low temperature geochemistry. High temperature, or high pressure geochemistry studies the formation of minerals and rocks deep in the crust or in volcanoes. Low temperature geochemistry studies the behavior of minerals reacting under conditions near the surface of the earth. These exploration methods help mineralogists search for buried ore deposits by detecting trace amounts of metals and minerals in water, plant, soil, sediment and rock samples. Mineralogists can identify where minerals are located by analyzing trace quantities of chemicals. This is particularly valuable for mining engineers and geochemists.

Many mineralogists are hired by the mining industry as quality control advisors and economic geologists and usually assist in exploration. They help geologists understand the distribution of ores in relation to specific chemical makeups, explaining why mineral concentrations occur in some areas, but not in others. Mineralogists work hand-in-hand with structural geologists to unravel the secrets of specific ore deposits, and, in doing so, provide valuable clues to the discovery of the new deposits. They work to ensure that mines produces quality ore. They may also troubleshoot any potential hazards.

Mineralogists frequently specialize in one particular mineral or metal, such as coal or silver. These specialists are experts within their area of mineralogy and build themselves a reputation for a particular mineral within the mineralogy and mine geology field.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Mineralogists must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills because they constantly deal with technicians, engineers and business clients. They should have a natural aptitude for mathematics and science (especially chemistry and physics) and be able to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings, which is not an easy task. Mineralogists should be able to make quick, logical decisions, adapt from an office environment to a laboratory or mine site and be able to supervise and lead others.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Conduct research and analyze the quantity and distribution of minerals in rocks
  • Examine interactions between minerals and rocks and any changes to their chemical makeup that result
  • Classify and identify fossilized life forms and minerals to assess depositional environments and geological age
  • Explore mining areas to determine the structure and the types of minerals that exist
  • Determine the most suitable means of safely extracting ore and minerals
  • Assess the size, orientation and composition of mineral ore bodies and hydrocarbon deposits
  • Collect and analyze rock samples in mineralogical surveys
  • Consult with scientists and engineers about mineral and rock projects
  • Write reports and present papers to help plan mining and petroleum operations, environmental programs, and resource management
  • Use computers to integrate and interpret data sets of geological information
  • Mineralogists spend the majority of their working time in the field, collecting data, and analyzing mineral samples. Some time is spent in the lab, but this is a field for people who like to work outdoors. Travel can be quite extensive and foreign, particularly since much of the new mineral exploration work is happening overseas. Those working for the government will generally work standard hours, however those in private companies and in environmental management will find themselves working long hours, which may include weekend emergency work.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Mineralogists work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed by mineral and mining companies, geochemical companies, petroleum and oil companies, and geology, geophysics and engineering consulting firms. Some mineralogists are self-employed and own their own research and consulting businesses. In the public sector they work for all levels of the government and also teach at postsecondary institutions.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced mineralogists may decide set up their own consulting businesses or partner up with geological and metallurgical engineers to open up a larger consulting firm that specializes in minerals, mining, metals and other gems. They can also become business mineral analysts, engineers, move into a new speciality area of geology or become teachers at a postsecondary institution with further education.

  Educational Paths  
The minimum education requirement for mineralogists is a Bachelor of Science (BS) honors degree in geology. A master's or doctoral degree in mineralogy may be required for employment as a postsecondary instructor or mineralogist researcher and quality control expert. Mineralogists are eligible for professional registration as a mineral geologist following graduation from an accredited educational program and after several years of supervised work experience and, in some areas, after passing a professional practice examination.

Before choosing a university, make sure the school's geology department has classes with a good selection of courses in mineralogy. Another idea is to volunteer doing geology work in a mine, or visiting a mine site -- one of the best things you can do to see if you can see yourself in that role.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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